TIME Retail

Black Friday Spending Drops 11%

Shoppers Inside The Westfield San Francisco Centre On Black Friday
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images A man takes a break from shopping inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre on Black Friday in San Francisco, Nov. 28, 2014.

Spending this four-day weekend is expected to fall from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion

Black Friday is starting to lose its luster.

A survey of shoppers from a national retail trade group shows that fewer people are shopping on the Black Friday weekend that historically marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the Associated Press reports.

The number of people shopping in stores and online this weekend was 133.7 million, a 5.2% drop from last year, according to a National Retail Federation survey of 4,631 consumers.

The total amount of spending for the weekend is expected to fall from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion, an 11% decline from last year. Per-person spending is expected to hit $380.95 for the weekend, a 6.4% drop from last year’s $407.02.

[AP]

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MONEY Shopping

What Small Businesses Are Doing to Woo You from Walmart and Amazon at Holiday Time

141128_EM_SmallBusiness
Matt Gray—Getty Images

Local mom-and-pop stores are trying to make a strong sales pitch to holiday shoppers, while getting squeezed by big box Goliaths on one side and cut-throat online discounters on the other.

Virtually all of the hoopla about Black Friday weekend focused on which retail giant has the best door buster deals and discounts. Amid the flurry of eye-popping markdowns, crazy marketing schemes, and general cut-throat competitiveness, it’s easy to overlook the little guys struggling to compete with Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, and all the other big retail players making noise in the marketplace. Indeed, as the results of a recent Bank of America survey show, the vast majority of small business owners feel left out of Black Friday: 74% said the day “has little to no impact on their bottom line, compared to 69% last year.”

To help small businesses avoid being thought of as mere afterthoughts during the epic shopping weekend, American Express created the day-after-Black-Friday tradition known as Small Business Saturday a few years back. It’s a fairly self-explanatory idea, in which consumers are encouraged—through deals, promotions, and special events—to shop at downtown mom-and-pop stores rather than hit the same old national retailers clogging malls and highway stops around the country.

Yet as Businessweek noted recently, compared with the frenzy of attention showered on huge national retailers on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, the trickle of special offers from small, independent shops is sorta “like bringing a (handmade) knife to a gunfight.”

Local shop owners say they having a particularly hard time competing with their oversized retail counterparts during the holiday season because online discounters push prices lower and lower, and national chains keep expanding store hours further and further into Thanksgiving. That doesn’t mean that small businesses and downtown shopping districts in general are willing to simply concede holiday sales to the mall. Rather than taking one careful, strategic strike against a larger opponent like David does in his Biblical fight against Goliath, small businesses are banding together in communities around the U.S., with the hope that there is strength in numbers.

Here are a few of the ways that these Davids are collectively battling for attention and shopper dollars during the holidays:

Local Shopping Guides
Local-focused magazines in cities like Memphis and Chicago make a tradition out of publishing shopping guides highlighting gifts that are made and sold in their respective metro areas. Some local business associations also publish a special version of The Scout Guide, a concept born in Charlottesville, Va., in 2010 focused on the best independent and locally owned small businesses, which has expanded to dozens of U.S. cities. “Small businesses need to speak louder to be heard over the Internet and the recession,” one business owner in the Minneapolis area said to the StarTribune recently, explaining why she supported a Scout Guide for the region. “With limited promotional budgets, we have to do more to announce ourselves than take out an ad spot in the back of a magazine.”

Still other cities, notably Detroit, are issuing “passports,” which shoppers can get stamped at participating local stores in order to receive discounts and the occasional freebie.

Free Parking
To woo shoppers downtown—where so many local-owned restaurants and small businesses still set up shop—Philadelphia waives the usual requirement to feed parking meters on Saturdays, now and throughout the month of December.

Plaid Friday
Buy-local groups created Plaid Friday in 2010 in Oakland, Calif., as a relaxed, small-and-independent shopping alternative to Black Friday, dominated as it is by national retailers and their mass-produced doorbuster deals. Why plaid? The concept, which has since spread to Las Vegas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Portland, Maine, and beyond, is all about “weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses.”

Small Business Saturday Deals
American Express launched Small Business Saturday—the day after Black (and now, Plaid) Friday—in an attempt to remind shoppers of the importance of supporting local businesses, while also reminding them that independent shops sell all manner of quirky, unique, and memorable gift items that never wind up on the shelves of the big box chains. In addition to the sales and deals available at mom-and-pop shops, AmEx gives registered cardholders up to three $10 statement credits each time they spend $10 or more at participating small businesses on Saturday. Sacramento and other cities participating in shopper passport programs around the country typically have special promotions centered on Small Business Saturday. Billings, Mont., meanwhile, has a printable game board featuring dozens of local shops: Get 10 of them checked off by visiting now through Sunday and you can enter to win gift cards valid at participating local businesses.

Parades & Special Events
Beyond the sales on Small Business Saturday, cities such as Wilmington, Del., are hosting parades to draw shoppers to downtown business districts, while the Stay Local group in New Orleans is coordinating all sorts of events to take place on Saturday, including celebrated authors serving as special volunteer booksellers.

MONEY deals

6 Black Friday Deals So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Real

dogs with "adopt me" signs
Jim McKinley—Alamy

Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets, toys, clothing, and jewelry come as no surprise. But how about Black Friday promotions featuring guns, giveaways of cats and dogs, and the requirement to strip down to your underwear?

Here are a half-dozen downright bizarre Black Friday deals:

Free Cats & Dogs
At least one Humane Society (in Oregon) is waiving the usual $50 adoption fee on cats now through December 1. In addition to free cat adoptions, the shelter is knocking $50 off normal dog adoption fees, which generally run $100 to $350. Other humane societies around the country are hosting Black Friday pet deals such as free dogs if they’re black and at least six months old (Kansas) and a promotion of $5 to adopt a cat 5+ years old and 50% off the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals (in Massachusetts).

Buy a Car, Get It Free If It Snows on Christmas
A car dealership in Chicago has a sales pitch that’s tempting for those who like to gamble—and that could wind up being extremely costly for its promoters. The deal is that all customers who buy a new Buick or GMC automobile at the dealership on Friday or Saturday will get full refunds on their purchases if it snows six or more inches on Christmas. The dealership is calling the promo its “White Friday” sale.

Guns & Ammo
It may not be what your family expects to find under the tree or stuffed in stockings on Christmas morning, but guns have come to be hot sellers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year, the number of FBI background checks conducted for each firearm purchase on Black Friday was nearly triple that of a typical sales day. Why are guns hot sellers during this period? Largely for the same reasons that so many other items are hot sellers right about now—because stores have big promotions to attract customers. Walmart is discounting all firearms by 20% for its Black Friday sale, while gun enthusiast websites are filled with firearm and accessory deals—weapons, targets, ammunition, and more—from a wide range of retailers around the country.

Wait Outside in Your Underwear, Get Free Clothes
Among the many early Black Friday sales that have popped up this week, probably the strangest took place on Tuesday at Desigual in San Francisco: As the Consumerist pointed out, the first 100 shoppers waiting outside the store wearing nothing but their underwear received free tops and bottoms from the Barcelona-based fashion retailer.

Buy a Car, Get a TV
The first ten customers to buy new cars at a Toyota dealership in Missouri received free flat-screen TVs thrown into the deal on Black Friday. What’s more, the first ten people in the door at the dealership on Friday were handed $25 gift cards for ham—no car purchase required.

Loans and Online Bank Accounts
Everyone else feels comfortable glomming onto Black Friday for sales and marketing purposes, so why not financial institutions as well? The Utah Community Credit Union, for instance, is advertising “BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTERS!” in the form of auto, home equity, and personal loans with supposedly great terms. Capital One 360, meanwhile, is hosting a Black Friday Sale, with bonuses like $100 for new savings and checking accounts and, depending on how much you invest, $150 to $1,250 bonuses for those opening a new online trading account or IRA.

Bear in the mind that even if these offers are truly good deals, taking out a loan or opening a new bank account is certainly not something you decide impulsively because of some flashy promotion. For that matter, no one should go adopting a pet or buying a gun on an impulse either.

TIME Economy

The (Recent) History of Black Friday Shopping

Christmas Shopping Season Kicks Off In New York City
Stephen Chernin—Getty Images Shoppers at Macy's on Nov. 28, 2003, in New York City.

The holiday season has long been considered shopping primetime — but the Black Friday rush is a more recent phenomenon

In 1938, a TIME reporter marveled at the artificial snow falling in the display window of Lord & Taylor’s on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Major retailers were just beginning to invest in their displays to entice potential customers ahead of the Christmas shopping spree, and the reporter was impressed.

“All this not only added melody to Christmas shopping but made the Avenue’s 80,000 daily pedestrians acutely aware of an artistic rivalry which has begun to show signs of lustiness,” the reporter wrote in the December 1938 issue.

As that TIME story attests, the competition for consumer dollars over the holidays is nothing new. As far back as the 19th century, the window between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been considered primetime for shopping. In fact, the retail industry was so intent on squeezing the most sales out of that period that they convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to push the Thanksgiving Holiday forward to the third Thursday in November; the new date failed to catch on or spur shoppers, so President Roosevelt reversed the change in 1941. (Read more about that decision here.)

But that doesn’t mean that Black Friday, the shopping bonanza the day after Thanksgiving, has an equally deep past.

Until recently, the largest shopping day of the year was not Black Friday but the Saturday before Christmas, says Jesse Tron, the director of communications for the International Council of Shopping Centers. According to one TIME article from 1968, the seasonal shopping rush didn’t even really begin until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In fact, TIME didn’t use the term to refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving until 1998. (Black Friday had traditionally referred to the financial crisis of 1869.)

So how did the pseudo-holiday take root? The term itself is traced back to Philadelphia in the 1960s, where police used it to label the crowds of shoppers and ensuing traffic jams. It would later be explained apocryphally as the day that retailers begin to make a profit–or go into the black–after months in the red.

Indeed, the term was eventually reappropriated by the retail industry, which had begun in the 1950s and 1960s to offer sales that Friday in order to woo shoppers, who often had the day after Thanksgiving off from work (to shop, so the retailers hoped). The day-long shopping spree gained traction in the Internet age, when sales and coupons could be more widely publicized. By 2002, Black Friday had indeed become the biggest shopping day of the year.

Read TIME’s 1961 cover story about how Christmas became a gift-giving holiday: But Once a Year

TIME Economy

FDR Moved Thanksgiving to Give People More Time to Shop

Franklin D. Roosevelt Thanksgiving
Thomas D. McAvoy—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, during Thanksgiving dinner in 1937

In 1939, the President got a pretty wacky idea about post-turkey shopping

Thanksgiving had been an official national holiday for decades when, in 1939, Franklin Roosevelt decided to mix things up.

The November calendar that year was an odd one: the month had started on a Wednesday, so there were five Thursdays rather than four Thursdays. Though Thanksgiving had been celebrated on the last Thursday of the month since the time of Lincoln, that August Roosevelt “broke his umptieth [sic] precedent,” in the words of TIME, and declared that he was moving the national Thanksgiving day up a week, the the second-to-last Thursday in the month.

Many people were not happy about the change, as TIME reported the week after it was announced:

Only since 1863 has Thanksgiving had a consistent year-to-year day, but football coaches were furious: 30% of them had games scheduled Nov. 30 which would now play to ordinary weekday crowds. Calendar-makers took the blow quietly except for Elliott-Greer Stationery Co. of Amarillo, Tex., which happily discovered it had designated Nov. 23 as Thanksgiving Day by mistake. Alf Landon sounded off in Colorado as follows: “. . . Another illustration of the confusion which his impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken in working it out . . . instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.”

Yes, Roosevelt’s Republican rival did just compare FDR to Hitler because of this.

But FDR had a Black Friday-friendly explanation: merchants wanted a holiday that was farther from Christmas, allowing more time to shop. By that fall, 22 states had decided to play along with the change in their official calendars, 23 were sticking with tradition and Mississippi hadn’t decided. (Two states, Texas and Colorado, decided to observe both holidays.) The President stuck with the change the following year, declaring Nov. 21 to be the official Thanksgiving Day for 1940.

The following year, however, TIME’s headline on the topic was “President Admits Mistake”:

Midway in his press conference, with no change of voice or expression, the President picked up a memorandum and said there was one thing more. The reporters, expecting an announcement of the occupation of Martinique, or the declaration of a national emergency, sucked in their breath. They let it out again when they heard the President say that in 1942 Thanksgiving would be changed back to the traditional date, the last Thursday in November.

Nobody rushed for the telephone. But seasoned old Pundit Mark Sullivan grasped the full historic significance of the change: though some New Deal experiments had been killed by Congress, and a few had been invalidated by the courts, this was the first one to be formally renounced. The President made it clear that he had not been responsible for the mistake in the first place. Retail merchants had wanted the date of Thanksgiving set a week ahead to lengthen the shopping season before Christmas; the expected boon to trade had not materialized; the changed date had been an experiment and the experiment had not worked.

It was, by then, too late to change 1941’s calendars, on which the old-new Thanksgiving date (the third Thursday) had already been printed. And in Maine, things were even more extreme: “Now that President Roosevelt has gone back to the old Thanksgiving,” TIME reported, “Republican Governor Sumner Sewall has proclaimed the new Thanksgiving for the first time.”

By the end of 1941, Roosevelt had signed a bill officially sticking Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, whether or not it was the last Thursday of the month. His attempt to give Americans a longer holiday season had proved futile — but, as anyone at a mall this Friday could attest, his instinct about the nation’s desire to get shopping wasn’t entirely misguided.

TIME Companies

Labor Group Plans Strike of Walmart Stores on Black Friday

Operations Inside A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Location Ahead Of Black Friday
Bloomberg—Getty Images Employees assist shoppers at the check out counter of a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

For the third year in a row, OUR Walmart is planning a massive strike on Black Friday

Employees at Walmart stores in at least six states and Washington, D.C., plan to strike on one of the busiest shopping days of the year to protest workers’ wages and hours.

OUR Walmart, an employee labor group, announced earlier in November that workers across the country would walk out over “illegal silencing of workers who are standing up for better jobs.” The group has been hosting Black Friday strikes since 2012, but promises this year’s will be the largest yet.

The group has the support of some of the nation’s labor unions including UFCW, a grocery and retailers union, the American Federations of Teachers in New Mexico, and AFL-CIO. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “the entire labor movement will proudly stand with the brave workers at Walmart as they lead the largest mobilization to date for better wages and schedules.”

Added Trumka: “Their courage is inspiring and powerful in the fight for all workers.”

Employees are calling for consistent, full-time work as well as a living wage of $15/hour. In a press release, Our Walmart boasts that its previous efforts against the retail giant have led the company to agree to increase minimum wages for its lowest paid workers as well as program that provides workers with greater access to open shifts.

Late Wednesday, social media reports began circulating of workers in Washington, D.C., and other cities who had already started participating in sit-ins and strikes. The group also accuses Walmart’s owners of growing wealthy on the backs of their low-wage workers.

“While many Walmart workers are unable to feed and clothe their families, the Walton family takes in $8.6 million a day in Walmart dividends alone to build on its $150 billion in wealth,” read a statement. “Walmart brings in $16 billion in annual profits.”

MONEY Shopping

The 5 Hottest Toys This Holiday Season

The upcoming holiday shopping season is crucial for the U.S. toy industry, and early data supplied to Fortune suggests Disney’s “Frozen,” as well as electronics such as Xbox One and the Skylanders game, will be among the top sellers this year.

Data provider Experian Marketing Services gave Fortune a look at the hottest toy searches for the week ended Nov. 22, and “Frozen” tops the list. With the Christmas holiday just a little over four weeks away, consumers who wait too long could find it challenging to scoop up some of the top sellers.

Roughly half of all Americans plan to buy toys as gifts this year, according to a recent Nielsen Harris Poll survey of more than 2,200 adults.

MONEY The Economy

Thanksgiving Shopping: By the Numbers

More than 140 million Americans are expected to shop on Black Friday, while some plan to get great deals online on Cyber Monday.

MONEY online shopping

Best Holiday Shopping Deals You Can Get Without Leaving Home

Since Black Friday sales now start on Thanksgiving, or even the week before, it sorta makes sense that e-retailers have launched huge Cyber Monday-like sales already.

Websites used to wait for the Monday after Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Cyber Monday) to launch their biggest, across-the-board online sales on all merchandise—deals like 40% off, even 50% off sitewide, with some discounts going even higher.

But in a market in which retailers are aggressively trying to grab shopper dollars earlier and early each year, and when “Black Friday” promotions start at least a week before actual Black Friday—perhaps even occupying all of November—why wait?

Amazon.com, the world’s largest e-retailer, sure isn’t waiting. The site has been rolling out a new Black Friday deal as often as every ten minutes this week. Virtually every other retailer has deals online that were live as of Wednesday, and are especially impressive because they’re so expansive: Instead of offering a select few discounts and “doorbuster” deals, they represent markdowns on virtually everything the retailers are selling.

We’ll update as the epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend progresses, and remember: All of these offers are available online, meaning none requires a trip to the mall.

40% Off
Abercrombie & Fitch: Use the code 15555 for 40% off all merchandise, online and in stores, through November 26.

American Eagle: 40% off sitewide (use code GOBBLEUP) now through November 30, with free standard shipping on all orders—plus a free blanket thrown in with all orders over $60

Ann Taylor: 40% off regular-priced items and 50% off “Sale Styles” with the code SHOPANN at checkout, valid through November 26

Banana Republic: 50% off one full-price item and 40% off the rest of your order with use of the code BRFORTY, on November 27 only

Lucky Brand: A “Pre-Black Friday” sale knocks 40% off sitewide

Tommy Hilfiger: Use the code BF40 for 40% off sitewide, valid through November 30

50% Off
Children’s Place: 50% off everything plus free shipping on all orders, through November 28

Gap: 50% off all merchandise (use code BLKFRIDAY) through November 28

Hollister: 50% off everything starting at 6 p.m. on November 27 (Thanksgiving), through November 28

Fila: Get 50% off nearly everything (there are a scant few exceptions) on the footwear and apparel specialist’s site, now through Black Friday

Lane Bryant: 50% off everything in store and online (use checkout code HOLIDAYLB), through November 30

The Limited: Enter the code THANKS for 50% off and free shipping

J. Crew Factory: 50% in store and online for the Factory line, as well as 30% to 40% off standard J. Crew merchandise

60% Off
Aeropostale: 60% off everything online and in stores through November 30, with a bonus $25 gift card for purchases of $100 or more

MONEY Shopping

Lazy Bargain Hunters Are Hiring People to Wait in Black Friday Lines

Customers wait in line outside a Target Corp. store ahead of Black Friday in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013.
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images Customers wait in line outside a Target store ahead of Black Friday in Chicago, Illinois.

For $20 an hour, you can hire someone to save your spot in line

There’s nothing sweeter than a Black Friday deal… except maybe a few extra hours of sleep. And thanks to the internet, some lazy shoppers have figured out a way to have their sleep and 70%-off TVs, too.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports consumers have been using TaskRabbit, a platform that lets users pay to “outsource” any job, no matter how minor, to hire people to wait in line for Black Friday doorbusters.

“Every year hundreds of taskers are hired to wait in line for Black Friday deals,” said Aaron Gannon, a spokesman for San Francisco-based TaskRabbit, told the Chronicle in an interview. And how much does line-waiting pay, you ask? In high-demand areas like San Francisco and New York City, the average wage is $22 an hour.

That’s hefty chunk of change—enough to make this journalist wonder why he didn’t double major in standing-outside-a-Target—and shoppers must be careful to weigh their line-waiting payroll against any potential savings.

But I suppose if the deals are good enough, and you’re sufficiently immune to feelings of shame, hiring a “tasker” (the technical term for a TaskRabbit employee) could make a lot of financial sense. For example, Walmart is offering a 65-inch Vizio television for $648 this Friday. On Amazon, that same set will cost you nearly $1,300. After, say, two hours of personnel (line-waiting tasker) costs are deducted, that could still yield savings of roughly $600.

Perhaps that’s why line-waiting has turned into a big business, even outside of Black Friday. The Atlantic noted the emergence of line-waiting businesses, like SOLD Inc. (an acronym for “Same Ole Line Dudes”), as well as entrepreneurs who use Craig’s List and similar sites to sell their services. Robert Samuel, SOLD’s founder, has made as much as $1,000 a week just taking up space.

And make no mistake, high-level line-waiters don’t mess around when it comes to their trade. “I’m a professional line waiter, here’s a business card,” said Samuel in an interview with Racked, describing a potential encounter with a curious pedestrian. “I can wait for you for your next sample sale or your next sneaker release.”

Line-waiting is apparently such a money-maker for TaskRabbit that the company has an entire page advertising its cast of warm, upright bodies. Paying a tasker to wait in line is “the easiest way to get the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus” announces the firm’s website. TaskRabbit even created a marketing campaign around the event: #SkipTheLine.

So is this new societal trend good or bad? On one hand, there’s something a little unfair about giving people with money to burn an advantage on holiday deals. There’s something meritocratic, even American, about giving extra savings only to those motivated enough to wake up before sunrise to wait outside a Best Buy. With paid staffers snapping up all the doorbusters, the rich would seem to be using Black Friday to get richer.

But at the same time, using your hard-earned cash to free yourself from unpleasant labors is also very American. Besides, it turns out that professional line-waiters may make life easier for actual retail employees. As one former Ralph Lauren cashier told MONEY, “The people who go out [on Black Friday], they’re just not afraid to really get angry… I’ve had a lot of merchandise thrown at me.”

Maybe leaving waiting to the pros will at least result in more relaxed shoppers, and a little less stress for the poor souls forced to work on Thanksgiving weekend.

Read More: Meet The People Who Work On Thanksgiving (So You Don’t Have To)

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